Elderly Group Opposes Chafee’s Budget

Thursday, March 24, 2011


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Rhode Island's veterans are not the only group unhappy with Governor Lincoln Chafee's proposed budget — a coalition of advocacy groups for the elderly is criticizing the proposed elimination of Rhode Island Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Elderly (RIPAE), a program that benefits approximately 4,500 low-income seniors and disabled people in the state.

The coalition includes AARP Rhode Island, Senior Agenda Coalition, RI Senior Center Directors Association, Gray Panthers of RI, American Baptist Churches of RI Eldercare Program, RI Partnership for Home Care, RI Assisted Living Association, RI Forum on Aging, and RI Minority Elder Task Force.

RIPAE provides prescription drug benefits to Rhode Islanders 65 and older and recipients of Social Security Disability Income who are 55 and older. Repealing the program would result in a savings of $300,927, according to Chafee's proposed budget plan.

However, in a joint statement issued on Tuesday the coalition said that it was "counter-intuitive" to eliminate the program, claiming that doing so would inevitably "send seniors to hospitals and nursing homes," — a move that could end up costing more than the expected savings.

Chafee justifies cut

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Chafee's budget plan justifies the discontinuation of RIPAE, effective July 1, 2011 in light of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The PPACA, put into effect last September, gives a $250 rebate to individuals affected by the Medicare Part D coverage gap —the Medicare "donut hole" by which a Medicare beneficiary is financially responsible for the entire cost of prescription drugs after they pass the Medicare coverage limit until the expense reaches the "catastrophic" coverage threshold.

Though the gap is expected to be halved in 2011 and eliminated by 2020, the coalition claimed that "federal assistance is far below the benefits provided by RIPAE. In the near term, thousands of Rhode Island seniors and older adults with disabilities still need financial assistance from RIPAE in order to afford their prescription drugs during the donut hole."

True out-of-pocket costs during the gap period range from $896 to $4,350. With the median annual Social Security benefit for RI retirees at $13,926 in 2009, health care could cost retirees one-quarter of their annual income. The $250 rebate is a mere 10% of the average out-of-pocket cost of often life-saving prescription drugs required by seniors in the Medicare gap.

Amid a whirlwind of statewide budget cuts, Chafee's revised Department of Elderly Affairs budget is $27.5 million — $4.7 million less than the revised FY 2011 value. If eliminated, RIPAE savings will account for 15 percent of this decrease.


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